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Full text of "The Gay Genius"


Yuan, or the pugnacious Tselu. But Wang attempted to make the
whole world agree with him. A rich soil grows all kinds and varieties
of plants. But on a bad piece of land you see not the same richness and
variety of growth but only a wearisomely uniform stretch of rushes and
weeds. This is the kind of uniformity desired by Wang."*

In August 1086, Su Tungpo succeeded in putting a complete stop to
the farmers' loans. Earlier that year, in April, an edict had been issued
for a half-hearted reform in the administration of these loans. The price
stabilisation granaries had been restored, but the farmers' loans, while
restricted to the amount of half of the value of the stocks of these
granaries, were still to be issued to the people. The court did this with
good intentions. It forbade the officials to go to a village, as had been
done, call a meeting, and allocate the loans to the villagers, and it for-
bade the clerks to visit the people's homes from house to house and force
their subscription. To Su Tungpo, however, this half-hearted measure
was not enough, and could lend itself to abuse as had been proved
before. On August 4 he wrote to the Empress, first asking for putting
a complete stop to the farmers' loans and second asking for the forgive-
ness to the very poor of all debts, including principal and interest. He
again compared the act of April to that of a chicken thief who said that
he was going to reform and would confine his stealing to one chicken
^L month, an analogy taken from Mencius. "These loans have been in
force for about twenty years. During this period the people have
become steadily poorer, lawsuits have multiplied, and banditry has
increased.... The officials established amusement places and gambling-
houses at the time of giving out these loans. Very often the farmers
returned to the city empty-handed. One can see this from the fact that
at the time of giving out the loans, the receipts of the wine monopoly
always increased. I have personally witnessed these things with tears
in my eyes. In the last twenty years numberless people have sold their
houses and farms, sent away their wives and daughters to work as
servants, jumped into the river, or hanged themselves because of in-
ability to repay the loans.** Why should an emperor, Su Tungpo asked*
demean himself to the point of lending money to the people for interest?
He suggested that an order be issued for the people who owed debts to
the government to pav them back in ten semi-annual instalments, and
made bold to express the hope that, considering the fact that the debtors
had already paid a lot of interest alone on these loans, the Empress
might be kind enough to forgive at one stroke all debts owed by the
poorer people below the fourth class. The next month, the farmers*
loans were completely stopped. But the proposal for the forgiveness
of debts was not accepted until six years later, after further tireless
efforts by Su Tungpo.

Alone, he went ahead in a one-man crusade against corruption aed